Teenager scarred for life after fryer work accident

A young girl was badly burned in an accident at a doughnut stall in Middlesbrough when her hand slipped into a fryer.

Rachel Reubens aged 17, from Billingham was working at the doughnut stand called Dinky Donuts, on the pedestrian area of Linthorpe Road when the accident happened on 13 November 2008.

Miss Reubens’ right hand was badly burned and blistered after the accident, in which her hand fell into the fryer while she was cleaning it. She was taken to James Cook University Hospital and received emergency treatment for burns.

Miss Reubens said of her ordeal: “I was scraping the oil off the fryer and my hand went in. I saw it go in but I kind of went into shock. I pulled it put and still had hold of the scraper. I was shaking. I put my hand in a cup of water and the water went hot. I didn’t know what to do, it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced.”

Miss Reubens is a student at Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough and is studying for her A-Levels. She said of her medical care: “The nurse said she would have to cut the blister and I just started crying. My dad was there trying to support me but I got really upset. I had to keep going back for two weeks to get the bandages changed which was really painful. I also had physiotherapy.”

She is now working part time as a sales assistant, but still suffers problems today. She said: “When it’s warm my hand swells and the scar goes red and itchy. When it’s cold it goes purple. I struggle to write for long periods. I can manage, but it’s uncomfortable. The specialist said it could be like that for the rest of my life.”

The owner of the stand Neil Dirk Pittaway, aged 36, was charged with six health and safety offences after a full investigation into the accident was carried out by Middlesbrough Council. Officers found that there were problems with a piece of equipment known as a dispensing hopper. It was considered to pose a serious risk to staff as they had to manually support it over the hot oil and if dropped could have splashed. This problem was however not associated with Miss Reubens accident.

Miss Reubens had not received health and safety training and Pittaway admitted that requirements such as risk assessments had not been completed concerning the employment of young people.

Mr Pittaway accepted full responsibility for Miss Reubens accident at Teesside’s Magistrates Court. Katherine Metcalfe, solicitor for Middlesbrough Council, told the court that no-one under the age of 18 should have been working at the stall. She said: “Rachel’s was an accident waiting to happen. She has a serious injury and it will be three to five years before she knows if the effects are going to be permanent.”

Ms Metcalfe also told the court that Mr Pittaway had not reported the accident himself to Middlesbrough Council, which was his legal duty.

Mr Pittaway’s defence lawyer Anna Hart said in court that her client had admitted full responsibility and had co-operated fully with the council’s investigation, and that he had now implemented health and safety measures. She said: “He now has a written health and safety policy and training records and he’s proactive in making sure that he complies fully with health and safety.

Mr Pittaway was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,390. It is understood that Miss Reubens has filed a claim for personal injury compensation.

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